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New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale’s quilt auction gets an overhaul

In this edition of 'Following Up', we look at how this beloved quilt auction moves online for its 2020 edition
Quilt Auction
Mennonite Central Commitee's 2020 featured quilt "Fire Island Hosta Queen" (supplied photo)

The New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale won’t take place as usual this May, but its beloved marquee attraction will continue on as originally planned, albeit on a new platform.

Ordinarily attended by hundreds at the New Hamburg Fairgrounds, the Mennonite Relief Sale’s quilt auction turns into a virtual event on May 30 from 10 am to 1 pm. As Mennonite Central Committee celebrates their 100th anniversary, they’ve curated 100 quilts to be auctioned off for this event.

Sheryl Bruggeling is the communications and events manager at Mennonite Central Committee and explained how the quilt auction will operate this year in the absence of the traditional sale.

“We were originally just going to a traditional online auction, which runs like a silent auction,” Bruggeling said. “But then Mike Fisher of Fisher Media came to us and said: ‘I can live stream your event’. So, we’re going to live stream and the auctioneer is going to be there in person, we’re going to share some stories about MCC and the impact of buying a quilt at the auction.”

While attendees won’t be able to see these quilts in-person, they can follow the sale through the live stream and place live bids just as they would at the fairgrounds.

Mennonite Central Committee estimates close to 10,000 people attend the relief sale every year, with close to 800 people in attendance for the quilt auction alone. One positive side effect of shifting the quilt auction online is it’s opened the sale to a whole new audience, with interest coming from as far away as Texas.

“The quilt committee tried to choose a wide breadth of types of quilts,” Bruggeling said. “We had a total of 181 that were donated. 100 are being sold at this live auction. They have also chosen 30 small quilts that will run as a traditional online silent auction, lap quilts and crib quilts and wall hangings. That still leaves us with 51 quilts, we are looking at all sorts of options to sell those.”

Every year, quilts are donated to the sale by a wide variety of people from across the region, with some quilters donating items for the sale for the last 30 years. “There is one woman from the UK who attended last year and was so impressed that she’s donated a quilt this year and shipped it over here,” Bruggeling said.

Countless hours go into knitting these arts of work, and some of these quilts are priced like a fine piece of art from a museum. One quilt even sold for $42,000 at the 2015 quilt auction, which was the “Threads of Africa” quilt purchased by Lens Mill Store.

Louise Hamilton, who is a full-time quilter and owns a quilting business in Mitchell made this year’s featured quilt at the auction. Her quilt is called the “Fire Island Hosta Queen” and the blue accents are a tribute to Hamilton’s late mother, Audrey.

Another quilt to keep an eye on is the “Underground Railroad Sampler”, which provides a fascinating piece of history to the prospective buyer of this woven treasure.

“The patches provide a message regarding the underground railroad quilt code,” Bruggeling said. “Back in those days, the quilts would be hung up and they would mean something to the fleeing slaves and it would tell them where to go.”

For the time being, Mennonite Central Committee has postponed the New Hamburg Relief Sale until later this fall. Like most public events, Bruggeling said the sale will adapt to the recommended guidelines for public outings, which means the event will look and operate differently down the road.

“We’re looking at setting up an online store, so that people can order their food in advance so that would limit the contact,” Bruggeling said. “As well as we’re hoping to give most venues where it makes sense, the option to do electronic payment, which would eliminate a lot of cash changing hands. We’re looking at Plexiglass barriers, masks, the PPE equipment that we’re all getting accustomed to now.”

Besides the New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale, Mennonite Central Committee operates six thrift shops within Ontario, with local branches in Kitchener, New Hamburg and Elmira. Last week, MCC’s thrift stores began accepting donations again on a limited basis.

Locally, Mennonite Central Committee encourages residents in Waterloo Region to help feed neighbours and friends through the “Extend Your Cupboard” campaign. Monetary donations help provide critical food items to the most vulnerable people in the community. Proceeds provide simple food staples like bread, milk, produce and pantry items.
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